An offbeat narrative that struggles to gain traction with adult readers.

A precocious 12-year-old boy joins a cast of quirky characters in this surprising adventure novel.  

Whitehouse (Bed, 2012) fills this story with tropes from teen literature. Parents are conspicuously absent; books offer unique comfort; and adults are, by and large, cruel and all-powerful. Bobby Nusku lives with his abusive father and is frequently bullied at school. Since his mother left, Bobby’s primary pastime has been tending the meticulous records he keeps while he awaits her return. He has jars of her hair, bottles of her perfume and all of her jewelry stashed away in hiding spots in his room. Over summer vacation, Bobby forms an unlikely friendship with his neighbor Val Reed and her daughter, Rosa. Val, who works at a mobile library, invites Bobby to visit the truck full of books. There, Bobby falls in love with reading. He longs for the promised escape of a happy ending: “He wanted to be in a book, to have an adventure.” When vacation ends, Bobby snaps under the pressure of his harsh, lonely life. After a moment of aggression, he finds himself back at Val's house. Rather than confront his wrongdoing, Val decides to give Bobby the adventure he craves, and the three run away in the mobile library. They soon meet Joe, a fellow escapee whom they find in the woods and invite along. The foursome grows predictably close as they drive across the U.K., avoid arrest and discover that “family is where it’s found.” The whimsical tone and fanciful flourishes—chapter names include “The Ogre” and “The Non-fire Breathing Dragon”—cross into the cartoony in scenes depicting violence and child abuse. The adults in the novel ask shockingly few questions before making irresponsible decisions that, while convenient for the plot, are highly implausible. Bobby’s desired happy ending clashes sharply with every foreseeable conclusion. As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly bewildering to readers accustomed to novels that are grounded in reality.  

An offbeat narrative that struggles to gain traction with adult readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4943-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014



The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000



The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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